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Does Philosophy strive for objectivity?

  1. Nov 26, 2003 #1


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    Ultimately, philosophy is a subjective matter, but can it achieve an objective truth? Or is truth objective?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 26, 2003 #2
    Philosophy by its nature does of course strive for objectivity, however that is a futile task so long as our thoughts and minds are chained to animals.
    It can, however portray various visions of relative objectivity, which looks at the broad spectrum of the universe without leaving the subject that is theorizing/looking out of the picture. This is way most philosophy has been about humans and what goes on in their minds, rather than what goes on outside our minds.
    Any philosophy that tries to alienate the philosopher is doomed towards error. Absolute objectivity would require one to be a "God" who lives in a noncorporeal form completely outside the realm of space and time; or outside of existence itself-an idea that is not only impossible but unconceivable too.
    Physics provides a much more objective vision than philosophy because it strips human thought down to symbols, which are like the foundation on which all words and language are built. We can recognize that physical phenomena in the universe does correspond to a certain dance of various forms (based on causality, interactions) that can be described to a degree by using mathematical equations, although the best physics like Relativity and quantum mechanics still doesn't exclude human beings/thought from the picture.
    If it ever occurs, contact with superior alien life would provide humanity with a vision that is significantly more objective than what we have now, by giving us a more universal context by which we can judge ourselves.
  4. Nov 26, 2003 #3
    1) It's not designed to obtain any truth. It can't even define truth; let alone obtain any. Philosophy is designed to cause one to increase in knowledge. Knowledge is completely subjective, and thus is subject to belief, preference, and interpretation.

    2) Truth may not even exist (of course, this sentence may or may not be "true"...it's valid either way :wink:).
  5. Nov 27, 2003 #4

    Les Sleeth

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    One difficulty in answering this is that the word "objective" is used in more than one way in philosophy.

    There is the meaning of objective in the sense of objectifying in order to study something. We regard it as independent of individual perception even though perception is the only way we have (math excluded) to examine the reality of it. The ideals of empiricism embody this sort of objectivity.

    Then there is to be personally objective in the sense of being free of bias or prejudice.

    In either case, I don’t think philosophy can “achieve an objective truth,” but I do think human beings can. To answer whether or not the “truth is objective” one could combine both meanings of the term objective. One first recognizes that realty exists independently of what we believe about it (I am treating “truth” and “reality” as synonymous). And when that is accepted, then one can understand that knowledge of reality is most effectively acquired when one’s mind is free of beliefs that reality must be a certain way.

    In some ways I think people are born pretty objective, but lose it as they grow up. People’s personal experiences are usually what shapes their beliefs, and too often those beliefs are anything but objective. The minute someone believes something is true (including a philosophy) when it is not yet known to be true, in that moment one loses one’s objectivity (believing an unknown is true, is not the same as suspecting it is, which is allowed for an objective mind).

    My view of philosophy, or more accurately, the practice of being a philosopher, is fairly classic. I can’t see how someone can say they are exclusively devoted to any philosophy without loosing one’s objectivity. To me, the true philosopher is seeking truth with the courage to accept it no matter what it turns out to be.
  6. Nov 28, 2003 #5


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    excellent reply les...when i say "objective", i am referring to the definition pertaining to truth/reality/free from human bias...yes, personal experiences do take us from that objectivity...so perhaps i am asking a question more of:

    does philosophy strive to be true?
  7. Nov 28, 2003 #6
    The first thing to realize is that the very question itself is philosophical and will therefore elicit differing answers depending on who is responding. Questions of the nature “What is objective?” or “What is subjective?” are philosophical, and so the question being asked simply begs for a working definition of the word “objective” to be provided.

    Empirical objectivity? No.
    One of interesting things about philosophy (also one of things many people despise philosophy for) is that philosophical questions cannot be directly answerable by the collection of facts (which is not to say that facts do not play a role, as some might think). Where is the objectivity when attempting to decide if computers are conscious, or if sacrificing an individual for the sake of a collective is acceptable, etc? People are applying standards (or norms) when they decide things such as what’s good or bad, beautiful or ugly, etc. These are questions science does not provide us with an answer to, and they are questions which show, imo, that philosophy is not objective under such an understanding of the word.

    In that case my answer continues to be No.
    I don’t believe anything people do is free from human bias, therefore, I do not believe that any philosophy can truly be impartial.
  8. Nov 28, 2003 #7

    Les Sleeth

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    I am not sure I understand what you mean by philosophy striving to be true. Do you mean people's attempt to develop their own philosophy, which can include studying various known philosophies to help guide their thinking. If that is the case, I think most people who develop a philosophy (or working at it) are trying to create something that represents the truth/reality. It seems to me that the very reason people philosophize is to try to get at the truth. I've observed that the most conscious people want to know the truth, and strive to find it.

    But here's the problem I see in developing a sound philosophy. Say one group of people grows up looking at only math and physical principles, and they get really good at doing that. And then say on the other hand a group grows up in a fundamentalist religious setting and they find that satisfying. Say a group of people grows up being abused by authority figures, while another group growing up is given everything they desire.

    As adults all these individuals seek to learn that at which they excel, or that which makes them feel more secure, or that which helps them get a little revenge, or that which makes them money, etc. Their value systems are shaped by their priorities, and that doesn't just affect what they try to learn, it also affects what they avoid learning.

    And so here we are in world full of people with philosophies that don't agree. Should we believe all philosophies are equal, sort of like what we say about opinions, and let it go at that? Well, we can't because some of those philosophies are causing damage, and not just to the people practicing them, but to others and the planet too.

    When businesspersons who wants to ease restrictions on industrial pollution regulations believes we shouldn't worry about the ozone layer or the water supply because science is growing more powerful by the day and they will solve this problem . . . is it an objective statement about reality, or is it shaped by what they want reality to be like?

    It turns out that being objective may be the most important element of philosophizing. Personally I almost never meet anyone free of personal bias when they philosophize, and it is a source of deep frustration for me at times (not that I am perfect at it either). Mostly what I see is people prematurely claiming their philosophy represents how reality functions. Usually they do because they discover principles that "work" in reality, and these principles fit their personal tastes. The next phase is projecting that all of reality is represented these favorite principles.

    This is what I have accused materialists of doing on several occasions here and at the old PF. In other words, it is the successes with empiricism (often given extra punch by a disdain for religion), and how well it fits their personal abilities and understanding, that makes them want to say reality is only material. Because reality actually is quite material, and because empiricism works so well in explaining that, they project that all of reality can be accounted for by it. Have they carefully studied all areas of human knowledge to see if anything else has “worked”? Nope . . . they don’t need to, they already know the truth about reality. Sadly, in spite of all the intellectual power that’s at work in empirical research, once that objectivity is lost for understanding the whole of reality (i.e., not just its physical processes), such individuals are no different than anyone else who’s prejudiced.

    For me it isn’t materialism or any other “-ism” that is a problem, it is the loss of objectivity that bothers me. If I lived when the Holy Roman Empire was in power, I would argue the same way against their claims of truth. They might have argued, just as those in power do today, that because they attained such might, it must make them right. Success too seems to spoil objectivity.

    I’ve rambled on just about enough, but there is one more thing I would add. We already know quite a bit about how truth is revealed – through people experiencing it. It is the requirement of empiricism, for instance, that what is hypothesized to be true about reality needs to be experienced; in that case we “observe” with the senses. But are there other legitimate human experiences?

    Because of the power of experience to disclose reality, I believe one will develop the best philosophical approach not by primarily studying the various theories of how reality is, but rather by investigating what different sorts of human experiences[/] there might be which have revealed aspects of reality.
  9. Nov 28, 2003 #8

    Les Sleeth

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    I think it is very, very difficult to attain true objectivty, but I believe one can get pretty close to it. I think that a person can get close who loves the truth over any ideas or beliefs they have (and by "truth" I am only referring to the nature of reality), and trusts the truth so much that they are willing accept it no matter how reality turns out to be.

    Such people are not always so popular since they tend to point out all the bias they see. I suspect Socrates was such a person.
  10. Nov 28, 2003 #9
    I think the conclusion to subjectivism is the notion that every single person, and thing, experiences a different reality and that there is no way to reconcile the experiences of two different things. In short, all of our internal worlds are completely unverified. Everything we think we know is merely a guess, and every thought process is a theory in progress.

    There are the possibilities that everything you see is merely your own imagination playing tricks on you, that you are an illusion of yourself (meaning you're dreaming), or that you are the only living being in all existence: All other people, their actions and behaviors, are all created by your subconscious. Just as the idea of beauty is all in the mind of the beholder, so is reality itself. Thus, there is no way to even try and objectify experience. This is subjectivism, which is a prevalent topic of discussion in philosophy and epistemology.
  11. Nov 29, 2003 #10
    objective is truth based on subjectivity of the people. I do believe Philosophy does strive for truth. Truth to me is not objectivity alone but a relationship between subjectivity as well.
  12. Nov 29, 2003 #11
    One can stand on the bank of a river and watch the water flow by, which would be akin to being objective (where the scenery doesn't change). Likewise, one can get in a boat and float downstream, which would be akin to being subjective (where the scenery changes continually). Which, is probably why we like to compare our thought processes to the "thought stream."

    We also need to understand reality is the medium that exists between opposite polarities. We can't stand on the bank of the river all the time, not without at some point getting caught up in our thoughts and floating downstream.
  13. Nov 30, 2003 #12
    Re: Re: Does Philosophy strive for objectivity?

    How is it you know this?

    Objective knowledge isn't subjective, IOW, frames of reference have been agreed upon, and each individual who properly applied reason should arrive at the same result within the bounds of the paradigm.

    Being logical would be worthless if we couldn't reach agreement consistently.
  14. Dec 3, 2003 #13
  15. Dec 3, 2003 #14
    I think what I'm trying to describe here is the process of being aware of yourself as you think, where your reference point becomes the "here and now," as opposed to getting caught up in your imagination and losing sight of this. Which, I also believe helps illustrate the difference between objectivity and subjectivity.
  16. Dec 3, 2003 #15
    so would you relate subjectivity to your imagination or altered reality and objectivity to the here and now or truth of all realities?
  17. Dec 4, 2003 #16
    Essentially yes, where objectivity involves an observation from a sense of detachment, and subjectivity involves being immersed in that realm (of thought, imagination, etc.) and becoming an active participant.

    Either way you have the observer and the active particpant, both of which are necessary in describing the process of what we humans experience as "reality."
  18. Dec 4, 2003 #17
    Yep...but realistically, whilst the objective individual attempts to enter this detached mode and apply quality amounts of critical thinking, the individual is still operating within a paradigm.
    If this paradigm excludes God for ex, then NO amount of detachment/objectivity will ever convince this individual, IOW, objectivity is agreement between two or more people who support a particular paradigm.

    Thinking and feeling co-define each other and what emerges from this interface is the premiss/paradigm from which one will begin the process of logical thinking which can be repeated by a like paradigm-minded thinker, this equates to objectivity, but doesn't necessarily quarantee exact agreement nor can it guarantee agreement from those inferencing from different premises/paradigms.
  19. Dec 4, 2003 #18
    Sounds fair enough. One's observations can only be based upon what one experiences. And so alludes to the title of this thread, suggesting that philosphy is the process of questioning such observations, and trying to understand them in an "objective sense."
  20. Dec 4, 2003 #19
    Certainly that's the "ideal" goal, only the application of rational and critical thinking to all subjects of mans interest.

    But I would suggest that current philosophy has hijacked epistemology to the point where it excludes non-rational modes of knowing, what we can call intuitive or biological knowledge.
    The solution is the acceptance of a pluralistic epistemology which would value what individuals feel as well as what they think.
    If you ask me, most philosophers are protecting the current paradigm of scientism which has excluded intuitive/biological knowledge at the epistemology level, and therefore prohibiting any objective agreement between competing epistemologies.

    So objectivity is limited to paradigms, and if a philosopher rejects the notion of pluralism, then he isn't applying rational scrutiny, but rather dogmatism.
  21. Dec 5, 2003 #20
    Of course we also need to understand that there's a "within" to the "without" of everything, and that the within gives rise to the without. And that this so called thing we call "objectivity" which, for all intents and purposes is designed to "measure" the without, is merely measuring that which has occurred after the fact. So what could that mean?
  22. Dec 5, 2003 #21
    As far as I can tell, the word 'philosophy' has at least two different meanings. Sometimes it is used to refer to the academic discipline, which is centered around the ideas of people such as Plato and Kant. More often than not, at least in forums like this, it's used to refer to a particular mode of thinking in which we often engage.

    I'm of the opinion that academic philosophy is, for the most part, completely useless. Looking to the past, one gets the impression that philosophers had a huge influence on the way people think. One often comes across the notion that, say, Kant laid the foundations for modern science, Pythagoras laid the foundations for music, or similar claims that put philosophers somehow above the rest of humankind, teaching the rabble how to think. Ironically, there's not a shred of evidence for that process hapenning in the present. What we do see is something completely different: it's non-philosophers thinking about problems, doing their personal philosophizing, who discover novel approaches to old problems and bravely solve them. Then the academic philosophers come along and claim the merit.

    It must be noted that academic philosophers have never, ever solved any real problem. For all their incessant babble, they have never discovered a law of physics, never found a method for creating art, a solution to world conflicts, the cure for any disease, or anything at all that counts for real achievement. So what is philosophy good for?

    The answer lies with the the scientist, the artist, the leader, the doctor, the common man. Their achievements certainly don't come out of thin air; they usually spend a lot of time thinking about their problems before a solution is found.

    So, to answer the question "does philosophy strive for objectivity", I think it does, only we don't call it "philosophy", we call it physics, literature, politics, medicine, and so on. Philosophy, in the academic sense, is the art of thinking about everything except things that matter. But that doesn't mean it has no value, it can be highly entertaining. I certainly entertained myself writing this post.
  23. Dec 9, 2003 #22
    if objectivity is science and politics then subjectivity is art and writing and so on. psyhcology is a subject that sticks out as being both as well as philosophy since both are talking of internal and external relationship of the human brain and body. by that i mean enviromental relationships to our self internally and externally.
  24. Dec 11, 2003 #23
    You're intoxicated
  25. Dec 11, 2003 #24

    I would also add that academic philosophy tends to over focus on the refinement of language as if all issues were effectively solved and just needed a linguistic tidy up.

    Also, that mode of thinking you mention should be refered to as critical thinking, CT being the gathering of ALL relevant facts, properly inferencing until a reasonable or reasonable conclusions are reached, and at no point assuming we have "absolute" knowledge, thus by necessity making critical thinking applied by a philosopher as an ongoing search for optimal knowledge and in my view, proper knowledge* having utmost priority.
    *that which maximizes the human condition.

    I hold the view that philosophers are responsible for philosophically advancing their culture, not just dogmatically protecting it as is happening, now by and large.

    Certainly, they were accorded higher respect in the 15-19th century, and then modern science and scientists got all the glamour.
    And I agree that societies elite are heavily influential for shaping the ethos, and sadly today, the elite are consumption junkies who are ignoring numerous dire scientific warnings, capitalism as we know it is struggling...the the US Military are the world's largest consumers of OIL, and are in Iraq to guarantee supply to themselves.

    I like this, LOL and agree generally, but would add that wisdom is epoch relative, IOW, we are approaching an ecological era of necessity, the world will be forced to adopt an ecological model to enable itself to continue with relative amounts of harmony.

    The value of the modern philosopher should be of a social critic, as it's necessary.
    We aren't solving poverty, we aren't preventing war, our own socities are unleashing serial and mass killers, both legally{war} and illegal, general serial killing.

    Good point.


    You've done very well for yourself...H.
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